Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell, RIP

Ernie Harwell, the broadcast voice of the Detroit Tigers most of my whole life, has passed away at 92 years old.

And yet another Michigan legend passes away. Ernie Harwell wasn't just the best of the Tigers, or of Detroit, or even of Michigan. Ernie Harwell was the best of humanity. My youth will forever be embedded in the timber of his voice, the crackle of the car radio, warm summer nights, the texture of my grandfather's hands, the leather smell of my baseball glove, the wonder and awe felt so strongly in my gut when I think of Gibby's arms stretched into the air that magic summer of 1984 - all of these moments, feelings, and emotions come to me when I hear Harwell's dignified voice. Yeah, I shed a tear for a man I've never met, but rarely have I ever felt closer to anyone.

From The Detroit Free Press:

The Voice of Summer died in the spring, shortly before the Tigers' first pitch of the evening. That was fitting.
Ernie Harwell would never want to interrupt the game.

Gone now. Like the home run that lands in the seats, like the final out of the ninth inning, like the thousands of games he closed with his signature sign-offs, his genteel voice telling us he'd see us tomorrow. Gone now. No more tomorrows. At 92, after a battle with bile duct cancer that stretched into extra innings, Ernie let go of this world and moved on to the higher place to which we are certain he was sent.

Gone now. We knew this was coming. Ernie, in his final grace, prepared us for it. He told us not to worry. We still worried. He told us not to cry. We cried anyhow. He told us he had led the life he'd wanted, that he was ready to say good-bye.

But we were not.

"I know into whose arms I'm gonna fall," he told me in one of our last conversations, on a wide stage in front of a sold-out Fox Theatre, a last, packed-house tribute to a man who became arguably the most popular figure in the history of our state simply by doing the same gentle thing over and over, simply by being there, by remaining consistent, pure, good and true, even as things around him became anything but. Ernie stood out because he stood still. He was reliable as a rock. A soul in a void. A heart in a sometimes heartless world.

As long as there was Ernie, there was still a piece of childhood, of summers gone by, a piece of what baseball was supposed to be about, a pastime, a joyous diversion, youth -- good, sweet, innocent youth. Even after he stopped broadcasting nearly eight years ago, just knowing he was here, seeing him on occasion at the stadium, his hands dug in his back pockets, that wide grin beneath a funny beret, made us feel that things were still OK in baseball, because the Voice of Summer was still around, watching over the game.

Gone now.

...But then, Harwell was more than an announcer. He was a voice inside of us as well as outside us. A voice you still can hear, even though the world has silenced it. He was a man to admire, an example of life lived purely and honestly. And because of that, Ernie will live on inside everyone who ever met him, shook his hand, gave him a hug, or simply heard his soothing words come through a tiny speaker in a car radio, or through an earphone hidden from the teacher on a school day afternoon.

In his last appearance at the stadium last year, he told the crowd, "The blessed part of (my) journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan."


"Bless you boys Tiger fever is here, Detroit is gonna do it '84 is the year..."